Drama And Triumph In The Other Leagues

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In spite of a lockout and a looming cancelled
season, some of the most dramatic and explosive moments in basketball
are happening right under our nose. In order to stay in s
hape and keep up with the game, a few of the most talented NBA stars of our time are storming up the court in the gritty world of street basketball.

This post-lockout season in the Drew League and streetballing leagues plays like all the conflict and misadventure of the NBA season condensed into a short month. Take the now famous EBC game at Rucker Park where Kevin Durant scored 66 points, prompting the audience to burst onto the court in celebration. Or the normally low-key DeMar DeRozan bursting with fury during a Drew League game. Or Michael Beasley letting loose some seriously rude trash talk about a Goodman versus Drew League game, not to mention when he clocked a fan in the face during a Rucker Park match, or when Matt Barnes elbowed an opponent. Conflict is the root of drama, and the streetballing NBA stars are shoveling it up in spades. In view of an absent NBA season, when basketball is quickly becoming synonymous with backdoor negotiation, our boys are still giving us an exciting time.

Maybe a little too exciting, muses SLAM ONLINE’s Chris Haynes, who thinks streetballing may lead to the downfall of one or more errant players. “The NBA, just like any other professional league, is also comprised of young, immature, volatile, emotional players who need structure in their lives 365 days out of the year,” Haynes wrote. “Unable to workout and have contact with their individual teams, players may be left searching for a good pickup game to stay in shape…the more accessible these players are to the public, the chances increase of having your faced caved in.”

Haynes may have something there. The NBA’s stakes are so high that games are often structured, controlled affairs, with the players generally kept at arm’s reach from the crowd. In streetball and the lower leagues, things are hazier, and the atmosphere is a little more Wild West. It’s a place where even the usually even-keeled DeMar DeRozan can blow up at a referee.

Echoing Beasley and Barnes’s losing their tempers, a Drew League loss to Long Beach team Problems led to DeRozan yanking off his jersey, hurling the ball across the gym and throwing his jersey at the referee. Later he said on Twitter, “I want to apologize for my actions at the Drew League today. I got caught up in the heat of the moment, but should’ve handled it better.”

Well, such meltdowns can happen when gods play with mortals. There’s so much scrutiny on players in the rarified air of the NBA’s Mt. Olympus, it’s fair if they miss a step once in a while.

And besides, having Olympians walk among us leads to transcendent moments like Kevin Durant’s astonishing 66 points at an EBC game at Rucker Park. The Park is legendary, having seen players like Julius Erving, Kareem, Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe, and that night Durant was hammering in 3-pointers and escaping double and triple-team defense. Durant almost broke the EBC record, currently held by Steve Burtt Jr., whose record was 68 points.

It was one of those incredible events that only happen in the sports world, and the tremendous display, complete with the audience ecstatically mobbing Durant twice, led to Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Joel calling Durant the best offensive player in the NBA and CNN’s Mallory Simon to declare it proof that basketball is about fun again. So eat your goddamn heart out, NBA lockout.

That game in Rucker Park, complete with the later game where Beasley cold shoved a fan in the face, are reasons that the streetball is sometimes purer than the NBA’s clean lines. Haynes argues that NBA players require the structure and space the NBA schedule provides, but music fans know the underground scene always blazes brighter than the glossy Top 40. While streetballing can’t compete with the NBA in terms of sheer talent and explosiveness, there’s something about the grittiness that reaffirms what basketball’s all about.

Consider Durant’s follow-up to the Park game, an amazing game against Chicago’s John Lucas III at Baruch College, where Lucas shot an astonishing 60 points versus Durant’s 41. That’s the stuff sports narratives are made of, and it’s happening at a time where NBA momentum is kaput.

Yet Haynes grumbles that the overseas option is probably the better bet for players. “The player gets to be involved in a structured environment, play meaningful games and have the luxury of being secure from the public to a certain extent.” he writes.

I don’t know about that. There’s something to be said about the spectacle of seeing gods walk among us, even if it leads to dramatic and worrying highs and lows. Isn’t that what basketball is supposed to be about in the first place? As power defender Randy Gill said about Durant’s storming of Rucker Park, “They’re never going to forget that in Harlem.”

These are exciting times, and we have these leagues to thank for it. These are the games to watch right now.

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